Glide approaches and more solo

I had a lesson booked for Wednesday – the weather wasn’t suitable for any more solo work (it was borderline in terms of the club’s limits, but given I’d only been solo once before it would have been a bad idea as I doubt I’d have been able to handle it!), so instead the instructor decided we’d do some glide approaches.

For these, we’d go up to 1500′ instead of the usual circuit height of 1000′, and then at a suitable point on the downwind leg pull the throttle, and then from there try to glide in to the runway without using any power. While there’s one less thing to think about as you clearly can’t control your rate of descent with power any more, it does make deciding when to turn to base and final, and when to take the various stages of flaps very important.

We did one normal circuit first (which ended with a go around as I failed to take all the power off before trying to flare – something that wasn’t going to be a problem for the glide approaches!), and then came the first glide. For this the instructor talked me through a lot of it (when to go for flaps etc), and while I was expecting the first one to result in a go around, in fact it ended up as a quite nice landing. We did a few more, starting at various different points on downwind due to traffic – they all seemed to go OK (I made the runway etc), and I realised they should help my normal landings quite considerably as they give me a much better idea of what the gliding performance is like etc.

The last one went a little wrong – as we got to the runway I became preoccupied with looking at it, and didn’t pay enough attention to my airspeed. In doing so I think I tried to ‘stretch’ the glide by pulling back, which is a) a bad thing to do as it causes airspeed to potentially get dangerously low, and b) actually has the opposite effect as it will tend to make you land even shorter (unfortunately it’s quite a hard instinct to get over). The result was a rather hard touchdown (and the instructor saying afterwards that if the speed had got any lower she would have told me to go around for safety).

If I ignored the last one however, I was in general quite happy with them – I was expecting a glide approach to be significantly more difficult, and while I imagine if I didn’t have an instructor sitting next to me providing useful prompts it would be quite a challenge, it still went better than I expected. The only thing that was identified during the lesson is for some reason I was subconciously applying left rudder when I didn’t need to, causing us to be out of balance.

I had another lesson booked today (Thursday) – the forecast looked a little bit questionable this morning, but by the time I got to the aero club it was looking a bit better. The aim for the lesson was going to be to do some dual circuits, and then if the weather held out it would be followed by 3 solo stop and gos – the idea with these is unlike a touch and go where you land, then apply full power and take off all in one go, you instead land, then either backtrack up the runway or taxi round (depending on what ATC allows), and take off again.

The 3 circuits with the instructor went pretty well (I was complemented on flying some very nice stable approaches), and then it was time for him to get out, and I was on my own again. The first one had a few interesting bits while in the circuit – due to an aircraft inbound on the ILS approach I was asked to orbit (make a 360 degree turn) for spacing, and then after that once I was visual with the other aircraft I decided to extend downwind a little bit to ensure sufficient spacing. The landing went nicely (perhaps a little flat, but not too much so), and taxying round the airfield was easy enough.

The second solo circuit went fine, right up until the touchdown – as with my very first solo I thought I’d bounced, and so went around (although the instructor (who was in the tower again) thought it had been fine – it may have been a little bounce but not one that I needed to go around from). I did another reasonable circuit, and then this time had a fairly significant balloon when I flared, so I went around again – at this point I was starting to get a little concerned, but it was third time lucky and I landed safely (not the best landing I’ve ever done, but not the worst either). As I’d done an extra two go arounds there wasn’t really time to do the third stop and go, so I was advised by my instructor (via ATC) to return to the parking area.

At this point I noticed the fuel was starting to get a little low (not in any way dangerously for me, but not sufficient for the next lesson), so I requested fuel to the tower, who advised my instructor would come down and meet me. Once he appeared, we taxyed round, and then had to perform a relatively tight turn and park with one wing quite close to a hangar for the refueler (this was why the instructor came to meet me, as I don’t know if my taxying skills would have been up to that alone!).

Anyway, another 40 minutes solo time into my logbook – I think I need to do 2.5 hours before we start moving on to other things, so I’m making good progress. Next time apparently will be dual followed by 3 solo touch and gos (weather permitting of course) – hopefully this will be tomorrow morning, although the forecast is looking like there might be a fairly strong wind at an unfavourable angle.

One thing I did realise during this lesson was an explanation for my left rudder problem – I realised I was attempting to line the side of the cowling I could see up with the runway, when in fact if I’m flying straight that should be curving off to the right. I tried to correct whenever I noticed I was doing this – hopefully I’ll soon be able to convince my brain to forget that mental picture or it will start to make things difficult!

First Solo!

I haven’t posted for a while (I have got a few notes about previous lessons which I might get round to putting up at some stage), but I have to do a post today as I had my first solo this morning!

I’d had a lesson that went very well yesterday, where the last part of landing (the flare) seemed to click and I managed 3 unaided landings in a row (one of which was on grass which was interesting), and I was hoping for a chance to consolidate this today. We were in G-UFCB today – things started off pretty well, with the first landing being reasonable (slightly off being straight when I touched down but nothing disastrous) – we continued with the circuits, two of which were go arounds (one as I ballooned and the other due to a fairly large bounce), and then on the 6th one the instructor said we should make this one to land.

I started to get a little suspicious at this point as time wise I could see there was probably time for another circuit or two, but I put that out of my mind, and achieved a reasonable landing. As I taxied us off the runway my suspicions were confirmed when the instructor got on the radio and informed ATC that we would be stopping on the compass point (a turning area on one of the taxiways), and the instructor would then be getting out for the student to go solo. After I’d confirmed this wasn’t a joke, we went through a few formalities (I needed to use the prefix ‘student’ on my radio calls, and also what to say to request further taxi etc), I was told not to worry too much if the circuit ended up quite wide, reminded that if I was at all unsure to go around, and then my instructor got out and headed over to the tower to observe (and be available on the radio should I need her).

I got taxy clearance from ATC, and went off to the holding point (thinking the aircraft felt awfully empty with just me in it!), did my power and pre-takeoff checks, including giving myself a take-off briefing, and then reported ready for departure to ATC. I was given clearance to take off, so on to the runway I went, lined up on the centre line and applied full power.

I remember thinking as I left the ground that now I was truly committed to getting it back down, and being grateful there was plenty of fuel in case it took me a few attempts. The first part of the circuit went OK, I felt I was a little more wobbly than normal, though I’m putting that down to nerves – I stayed on track and at the right altitude so I was happy enough. After reporting downwind to ATC and doing my pre-landing checks, I remember at that point starting to get quite nervous, but once I turned on to base the nerves disappeared as I concentrated on what I needed to do.

I got lined up on final nice and early, and the approach felt like it was going really well. I flared at roughly the right time (I started a little bit too early but caught myself and didn’t balloon), and then touched down. I had what felt to me like a bounce, so I made the split second decision that I was better safe than sorry and decided to go around (I heard later from talking to the instructor that all that had happened is one wheel had lifted slightly, probably as I wasn’t perfectly level and now the weight in the aircraft was slightly uneven – I would have been fine as it would have settled back down on its own).

The second time around the circuit was OK, though on downwind the nerves started to build up a little bit more with thoughts along the lines of I’ve gone around once, what if I have to again, but as with last time once I turned on to base leg I was focused on what I needed to do and didn’t have a chance to think about the nerves. The second approach was also OK – towards the end I was starting to notice my airspeed being slightly lower than it had been. so was keeping an eye on that as if I let it get any lower I’d need to go around, but in the end I was able to flare at the right point, and had a relatively gentle touchdown (possibly one of the smoothest I’ve done so far!). I rolled out, exited the runway at charlie, came to a stop and did my post landing checks. At this point the shaking started realising that I’d just done my first solo successfully (I was quite glad this hadn’t started while I was in the air, and I was glad that steering on the ground is done with feet not hands!)

I taxied back to park, and began securing the aircraft – while I was doing so the instructor arrived back from the tower and congratulated me, asking about how I felt it went – apparently she’d been slightly surprised by the go around as when she saw me touch down she’d started heading for the stairs but then the controller called her back, but wasn’t critical of my decision.

It was then back to the aero club where I signed the authorisation book and tech log (which I’ve never had to do before as I’ve never been what’s known as P1 or pilot in command), and then logged my first 25 minutes solo time in my logbook, which was not something I’d been expecting to do when I got up this morning (I’d assumed I’d have another 2 or 3 lessons at least before this happened).

I spent the rest of the day with a grin on my face and found it quite hard to concentrate on anything else…

Now to hope that I don’t forget everything before the next lesson – it would be rather awkward if it was a different instructor who was then wondering why on earth I was sent solo last time!

Circuits again

After a cancelled lesson yesterday due to some engine testing that was being carried out at Cambridge making circuits impractical, and the destination the instructor had planned to go (Duxford) to do them suddenly getting too busy, I was looking forward to today’s lesson. I did start to wonder if somebody had it in for me however as while checking the aircraft (G-UFCB – only the second time I’ve been in this one) I noticed that the nosewheel suspension mechanism had virtually no extension – fortunately there was time for the instructor to taxy the aircraft to the hangar where a couple of engineers opened up the cowling and reinflated the system.

I’d been warned last time that as I progressed in the lessons the instructor would be prompting me less and allowing me to make more mistakes (as long as they didn’t compromise safety obviously), and that was certainly the case this time. We got in 6 circuits, with one go around (I decided I was too high and too far along the runway to safely do a touch and go – the instructor said afterwards that it would probably have been OK given how long the Cambridge runway is, however I did the right thing in going around as I wasn’t sure).

One touch and go was a bit dodgy as I got confused with adjusting the trim and for some crazy reason looked down at it rather than just glancing down, meaning my primary focus went away from keeping us straight – I won’t be doing that again!

I did manage one landing where the instructor barely did anything to the controls at the point of the actual flare, though I think that was mainly as he’d helped me get it properly lined up during the approach – this is definitely my next milestone (making a circuit / landing with no control movements from the instructor), hopefully I’ll be there soon.

I was reassured that pretty much everything the instructor mentioned during the post flight briefing were things I was already aware I was getting wrong (as obviously while I don’t want to be getting it wrong at all, knowing I am and thus being able to work on it is far better than being ignorant!) – the things that I need to work on therefore are:

  • Maintaining 1000 feet in the circuit, I was often at around 1100, and sometimes 1200 – I think this is my old problem of keeping the nose too high as normally it was associated with me being a little slow as well
  • Maintaining 70 knots on base leg – I’ve been letting this fluctuate too much
  • Deciding when to turn on to final – I was nearly always turning too early, and thus ending up left of the centre line and having to try and correct
  • Airspeed on final – I’m still trying to do the instinctive thing of controlling rate of descent with attitude rather than with power, and thus my speed was starting to get a little low a few times. I’m going to try thinking “airspeed, runway” rather than “runway, airspeed” as I have been and see if that helps!
  • Rotating on a touch and go – I’m rotating a little late at the moment (around 60-65 knots rather than the 55 I’m supposed to be doing it at)

I think I’m alright on the checks and the radio calls now, though I do need to remember that my number one priority is always to fly the aircraft, whereas I think a few times I was starting to think ahead about the next radio call, and there was one moment I put a call in between the tower and another aircraft’s readback (I realised immediately as I started speaking, but decided as it was a short message (G-CB going around) to just carry on and get it said).

I have another lesson booked for tomorrow morning, however the forecast wind is not looking promising, so we’ll see what happens…

More circuits

I think I’m going to have to think up more imaginative titles for future blog posts, given the number of circuits lessons I’m likely to have!

Unlike last week, today the surface wind was reported as around 4 knots from variable directions, and a nice high cloud base – by the time it actually came to take off the wind was essentially calm, which definitely made things simpler, and I didn’t feel I was fighting with the aircraft to keep it gong in a straight line as much.

The plan was to do some circuits, practice a go around, and then depending on how I was getting on potentially a practise fanstop (this is where you practise handling an engine failure on take off). Unlike last week I’d be trying to do the checks and radio work as well. The first circuit was OK, though it turned out the low wind had decided to settle as a slight tailwind towards the runway, so we landed a fair way along the runway (luckily it’s a very long runway otherwise we would have had to either go around or at least stop and backtrack rather than just doing a touch and go). The instructor pointed out I had my eyes inside too much and should have been looking out more, and so next time round I tried to concentrate on this.

On the second circuit I noticed that unlike last week I wasn’t having to do much to keep things straight on the downwind (parallel to the runway but in the opposite direction) leg, and so doing the radio call and checks etc was relatively straightforward (it was also the first chance to catch a breath after a final, take off and climb to downwind). The second circuit was better, though the instructor was still having to help a lot in the actual landing (I was failing to apply enough back pressure).

It all went a bit wrong on the third circuit, when as we were low over the runway I was rather abrupt in taking the power out (there wasn’t much of it there, but losing it all at once caused us to drop very hard on to the main wheels and bounce back up), triggering a go around (oh well, needed to practise one of those anyway!).

At this point we were told that the tower were changing the runway from 23 to 05 (i.e. reversing the direction) – I’d always wondered how this was handled with aircraft already in the circuit, what we did is at the end of the crosswind leg instead of making a 90 degree turn left on to downwind,we made a 180 degree turn right on to what was now base leg (to avoid overflying the city the circuit direction for 05 is reversed, so you fly the same path as the 23 circuit but in the opposite direction). Unfortunately of course this meant all the landmarks I was looking for had changed!

As we weren’t in quite the right position due to doing the turn around (and it was good to practise one anyway) we did a go around, which I seemed to do OK though I was quite surprised by how much forward pressure I had to apply to keep the nose from shooting up due to the fairly hefty nose high trim from the landing approach (the instructor suggested that locking your elbow in this situation can help).

On the next circuit we did a touch and go, and then on the way out a practise fanstop – while obviously it’s what would happen in real life, I still was surprised by how suddenly the engine throttled back. I did the right thing and pushed the nose forward to try and get 70 knots (the best gliding speed), but the field I selected would have been too far away (I’ll get a better idea of the gliding range with more practise apparently). The instructor was happy with this in general though (I did at least not do the instinctive thing which is to pull back and therefore have a good chance of stalling!).

I was told the next circuit would be to land (which was a bit of a relief as I was starting to get rather tired!) – this was probably the best yet, and the instructor commented afterwards that it seemed I’d got things trimmed better. It was then a case of taxying back etc.

Debrief afterwards brought up the following points, most of which I was already aware of:

  • Need to try harder to keep my eyes outside and set things by ‘picture’ then cross check the instruments rather than trying to chase airspeeds etc
  • Need to remember right rudder when at high power (I think this one is probably going to come up every time)
  • Really remember that attitude controls airspeed, and power controls rate of descent (while I understand enough of the physics to know that it has to be this way to work, trying to override what is almost a subconscious instinct to pull back when you’re descending too fast is very hard!)
  • Maintain angle of bank in turns – apparently I was getting to e.g. 30 degrees, but then it was drifting back before I rolled out
  • Need to work more on co-ordinating the amount of back pressure I apply in a turn to maintain airspeed or altitude as appropriate

All in all, a good lesson – I just hope the weather is as cooperative for my next one, and hopefully I can get to the point where I’m getting the correct back pressure during the flare etc!

Circuits

Today’s lesson was the first (of what will be many!) doing circuits – the circuit is a rectangular pattern flown to co-ordinate activities around a runway for landing, where each ‘leg’ (i.e. side of the rectangle) has a name, and specific activities that are carried out on it.

I woke up to find the wind was looking questionable (I knew that doing the first circuit lesson with a crosswind is not ideal), but headed down to the airport to see how it went (I could at least get the brief out the way).

I had a fairly thorough briefing filling in a lot of the details the textbook doesn’t give (specific airspeeds for the Cessna 172 on the various legs, useful landmarks to know where to turn etc). It was explained that the instructor would fly a circuit to demonstrate, and then it would be my turn (though due to the crosswind the instructor would be helping quite a lot on the final approach).

I was asked if I’d mind another person back seating, which I didn’t (as long as he was prepared for what might be some quite poor landings!). The checks etc were all fine until the power checks at the holding point – the attitude indicator (AI) was dancing around, however as we only need this if we fly in to cloud the instructor decided we could continue (it seemed to fix itself once we took off, so it’s possible the gyro just hadn’t got properly up to speed or similar – still, it showed the reason for all the checks and a good reminder never to skip any of them, as had we been planning on instrument flying it could have gone very wrong if this has only been noticed once in the air!)

I took us on to the runway, at which point the instructor took over and demonstrated the circuit, explaining what was going on all the time and pointing out landmarks to look for. As usual she made it seem easy, but I already knew that wasn’t the case!

Once we landed, we got permission from ATC to backtrack up the runway rather than having to taxi off and back on which would have taken quite a lot of time – fortunately there was nothing waiting to take-off / land so this was approved.

Once in position at the start of the runway we were given take-off clearance so it was now my turn – the instructor was going to do all the checks and radio work in order to leave me to concentrate on the flying (this fits with the principle that a pilot’s priorities should always be 1. Aviate (i.e. fly the aircraft), 2. Navigate (ensure you’re where you’re supposed to be), 3. Communicate). The wind was slightly across the runway, and as such this was my first cross-wind take-off (for this you hold aileron into the wind until just before you rotate and leave the ground).

Despite it actually taking around 6 – 8 minutes to do a circuit, everything seems to be happening almost immediately, as such I’d barely got over mentally getting off the ground and establishing the right climbing speed when it was time to make the first turn to the crosswind (90 degrees to the runway) leg. The only break was on the downwind (parallel to the runway but in the opposite direction) leg, though that will normally be filled with radio work and pre landing checks!

As usual my rudder control wasn’t brilliant and there were a few prompts from the instructor – unfortunately when I tried to correct I’d normally end up over correcting making things rather uncomfortable at times.

When we got to the base leg (90 degrees to the runway and behind it) I was still working on getting the right airspeed when it was time to turn final, and then on final I kept trying to do the instinctive (but wrong) thing to control rate of descent with the attitude rather than the power.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

When you get right down close to the ground you perform a ‘flare’ (levelling off / pitching up slightly to let the main wheels touch down first) – during this I’m supposed to look at the end of the runway and use my peripheral version to notice the ground coming up to meet me, but I found it quite hard to overcome the instinct to look down at the tarmac around me!

We were doing a touch and go (this is where you land but then immediately take off again to save any taxying), as such after we landed it was flaps up, apply full power and take off again – getting in the right frame of mind to do this took a while, and I’m glad Cambridge has a nice long runway or we might have had to stop.

The next circuit wasn’t much better – probably as I was still trying to mentally process the first one, which meant I was ‘behind’ the aircraft mentally (not a good position to be in). The instructor decided we’d stop after this one as the wind was picking up all the time and so I wasn’t going to learn much from the landings etc as she was having to do quite a lot due to the crosswind – I didn’t complain as I was already feeling quite tired!

Once we were down it was then back to park (with a little hurry up from ATC while doing the post landing checks as another aircraft was about to come off the runway behind us). The sky was looking very grey by this point, and fortunately we managed to secure the aircraft and make it inside just as the heavens opened (I was very glad we hadn’t done another circuit at this point!)

The post flight briefing basically covered most of the things I already knew I was doing wrong, and said that it will come with practice. It was also mentioned that lessons were more likely to be cancelled due to weather, as we can’t just get nice and high where the wind has little effect, so it might be worth booking an extra lesson every couple of weeks to keep the number up – I’ll see how this goes and probably aim to book extra ones in weeks the weather looks good at the beginning.

One key tip I was given in the pre flight briefing but totally forgot during the flight, is that I need to try and remember when looking at instruments to only move my eyes rather than my head – that way keeping my eyes on them too long will get uncomfortable and thus it will encourage me to look outside more (I was probably paying rather too much attention to the airspeed indicator and altimeter today).

All in all it was pretty much as I thought it would be – I’d never expected circuits to be easy, and as promised by the instructor beforehand I did come out of it with my brain about to go into meltdown. In order to relax a bit before going in to work I did pop in to the Blue Cross centre that’s out in that part of town to visit the cat I’m adopting (he’s called Pickle – he needs to stay in the centre for a little bit longer due to a skin problem they want to get cleared up), so that was good.

Stalling

I was worried at the beginning of the week if I was going to be able to get either of my lessons this week, as it didn’t look promising – however, this morning the cloud base was reported at 4500 feet with no significant wind, so things were looking good.

I had a slightly eventful trip to the airport – I was dropping my car in for MOT & service on the way, so I popped my bike in the car and then cycled from the garage to the airport. Unfortunately just before arriving at the airport I managed to fall off (I’ve not done that in years – I think the problem is I’ve had a new chain put on and it slips occasionally and it caught me out) – luckily I wasn’t hurt and the bike survived!

Once there we went through the brief – the two crucial things being the Standard Stall Recovery (SSR – basically push the nose forward and apply full power, once unstalled climb out), and making sure I was happy on the HASELL checks, which must be done before practising stalling etc, these are:

Height – must be sufficient to recover by 3000 feet AGL (above ground level)
Airframe – make sure the flaps are set up correctly
Engine – check Ts & Ps are OK, and mixture is fully rich
Security – make sure harnesses are properly secure, and there are no loose articles in the cockpit
Location – must be clear of Active airfields, Built-up areas, Controlled airspace and Cloud
Lookout – we need to do a 360 degree or a pair of 180 degree turns to check there are no other aircraft in the vicinity

I was then sent out to check the aircraft (G-HERC) – no major issues here, other than the landing light still wasn’t working, but this is only needed if flying at night anyway.

I did the takeoff again – fortunately I had a chance to get myself properly lined up as we had to wait for a vehicle to clear the runway – I was a little late in rotating, but nothing disastrous – the climb out was fine (I managed to keep it at 80 knots rather than my normal failure of being a little slow).

We switched over to the approach frequency, and were warned about a hot air balloon in a particular area, fortunately we weren’t heading in that direction anyway so didn’t have to worry about that (it wouldn’t be at the sort of height we were heading to anyway).

Once we got to the area we would be using we did the HASELL checks, and then the instructor demonstrated a stall to me – there wasn’t quite as violent a nose drop as I expected. Next was my turn – despite having read other accounts, I still wasn’t prepared for quite how hard I had to pull back to actually make it stall (this is quite reassuring!). The actual recovery was OK, I did push the nose a bit too far forward, and failed to apply right rudder to compensate for the slipstream effect of full power (this was going to be a recurring mistake!), but in general I recovered without excessive loss of height.

We then practised stalls in various different configurations (with/without flaps and with/without power), and a stall with a wing drop (where one wing drops significantly more than the other thus rolling the aircraft, and you have to resist the temptation to try to correct with the ailerons until you are unstalled).

Next was recovering at the incipient stage (i.e. before it’s actually stalled) – basically when the stall warner starts sounding carry out SSR – this was practised in the various configurations and all seemed OK.

I took us back to the airport, and under direction from the instructor performed an overhead join to get in to the circuit. As a preview of the next lesson (which will be starting to do circuits) I was told what to do and (with the instructors hands on the controls just in case) effectively did the landing. It wasn’t exactly the best landing I’ve experienced (we touched down rather hard and technically a little bit short of the aim point), but they say any landing you can walk away from is a good one, so all in all I’m quite happy with it (there’ll be lots more opportunities to practice in the next however many lessons!).

All in all I was very happy with the lesson – it was a good experience and I think I did OK with everything. I’ve got another one booked for Friday weather permitting, which will be starting on circuits – I’ve been warned that a perfectly normal reaction is likely to be a bit of a mental overload and be left wondering if I’ll ever be able to do this by myself, so we’ll see how it goes!

Slow Flight

Today’s lesson was meant to be on slow flight and stalling – unfortunately the cloud base was such that we wouldn’t be able to get high enough to practice stalling safely, so we’d concentrate on the slow flight side of things.

At first glance flying slowly doesn’t seem like it should be an issue, however due to the way different elements of drag act on the aircraft, you can actually end up in a situation where to fly more slowly while keeping level you have to apply more power rather than less. This lesson was all about flying around this sort of speed (i.e. close to the stalling speed of the aircraft) – this isn’t something you want to do in general, however it is the situation you are in on final approach to land.

I did the take off again today – I managed to keep it straight along the runway, and while I probably rotated a little bit late, this wasn’t a major issue. I was however caught slightly by a gust of wind that lifted a wing once we were in the air, luckily I corrected it quickly enough to avoid any problems.

We then practised slow flight in a variety of different configurations – this seemed to go OK, though reinforced what I’d noticed last time that my rudder control needs some work (keeping the flight balanced is very important when at these sort of slow speeds). It was slightly unnerving to have the stall warner occasionally chirp, but I wasn’t particularly worried at any stage (we were safely above stall speed – I think the warner just got confused by the odd bit of wind across it etc).

While due to the slower speed we were often deliberately in a higher nose attitude, when we were at normal cruise I did try to concentrate on getting the attitude right and not having the nose too high (the failure I identified after the last lesson), though I think this still needs some work.

On the way back I nearly got to do my first orbit (a 360 degree turn just to hold position) as we couldn’t get a response from the approach controller (it was the same person doing both approach and tower and it seemed he had 3 aircraft all deciding to talk to him at once), but as I was starting the turn we got a response so I levelled off.

The instructor took over relatively early during the final approach. which I was glad about as the wind was making things quite bumpy and I was having difficulty keeping us on course. The landing was OK, a bit further down the runway than the aim due to a slight balloon in ground effect, but we were still able to make the taxiway we normally use to leave the runway. Other than having to avoid some chocks that had been left right on the taxiway centreline (we reported it to the tower who sent someone out to move them), there were then no issues taxying back and parking etc.

If the cloud base is suitable then next lesson (tomorrow morning) I’ll be doing stalling – if it’s not but still OK to fly then I might ask if there’s anything we could do that might help with my nose high tendency and to practice rudder control instead (the next thing after stalling is circuits, but they don’t like to jump ahead to that before learning how to do stall recovery).

Turning

After some initial confusion as to what lesson I was doing (yesterday’s instructor needed to dash out after the lesson and hadn’t had a chance to transfer his scribbled notes to my training file), we went and had the brief.

The key thing here was going to be to try and keep the turns co-ordinated (this means putting in the right amount of rudder to counteract the adverse yaw effect), and also trying to maintain level. As with most things, it sounded simple in theory…

 

We decided to take G-MEGS, which is the one with the glass cockpit. I had a bit of difficulty starting it – the instructor couldn’t see that I was doing anything wrong so in the end we concluded that it just needed a bit more time being primed with the fuel pump than the checklist said. Once up and running, we were fine.

As we taxyed to the holding point, I discovered a failure of my cheap WHSmith clipboard – the pen holder doesn’t have enough friction and so it decided to disappear out onto the floor – will have to resolve that for future lessons.

I did the takeoff again – it wasn’t as good as last time as I veered a foot or so off the centre line at one point, and then proceeded to end up in initially too high an attitude for the climb (not dangerously high, but higher than the ideal – I’m blaming that on the trim setting though as I think from looking back at the position of the trim tab the take-off mark is in the wrong place). I was also told that I need to keep my hand on the throttle during the takeoff in case it starts to work its way closed etc.

Once we had sufficient altitude, I was asked to do a climbing turn to take us towards the area we were going to be using. Once there we then proceeded to keep practicing medium bank turns, coupled with the occasional climbing or descending turn in order to avoid clouds. The instructor also prompted me to do a few FREDA checks (he also gave me a useful rule of thumb, that very roughly each 10 units on the fuel guage equates to an hour of flying), and asked me where we were a few times – now I’m getting more familiar with the area we operate in I can start to recognise some of the more obvious landmarks / features (the A14 being a really useful one).

By the end I had managed a few decent turns, and those that weren’t perfect I could at least recognise why. My main problem was judging the appropriate amount of rudder, coupled with some difficulties keeping the altitude stable (part of this is my old problem of keeping the nose too high, the other is when I was concentrating on getting the rudder right I’d find I ended up in a slight descent). Lots more practice required here (which I’m sure to get once I start doing circuits in a few lessons time!)

One the positive side I did seem to be remebering how to climb and descend when asked to, so it looks like that has at least sunk in.

Coming back to the airport everything got a little hectic – due to some clouds in the way the instructor had been planning a downwind join (joining parallel to but in the opposite direction to the runway), however the tower asked us to do a crosswind. This led to some interesting climbing / descending, which was then further complicated as we were told about a Tiger Moth that had just taken off to do circuits so we had to try and spot that. Once we had visual contact with it things calmed down a little bit, though was still all a bit rushed (for me at least).

The approach was OK, though the instructor had to take over a bit higher than last time as I was letting the speed start to get a bit too low (again my problem of keeping the nose too high – I don’t seem to like looking at the ground!). Once we’d touched down and lost sufficient speed that we weren’t going to leave the ground again I took over, slowed us down and took us off the runway and back to park.

Next time is slow flying and stalling, which should be interesting. I’m also I think going to ask to do a little bit of straight and level at higher power (which means lower nose attitude) to try and convince myself that just because it looks like we’re heading towards the ground we’re not!

Climbing and Descending (2)

Despite forecasts to the contrary, I woke up to find the weather was looking good, so went off to the airport. After a relatively short briefing (since this was essentially what I did last time, just adding use of flaps and power – though the instructor did give me a useful tip for how to maintain balance using an external reference rather than the balance ball), I went out and started checking the aircraft (G-HERC this time).

I did notice one possible issue during the checks – the nosewheel oleo (a shock absorber to soften the impact when the nosewheel touches down and absorb some of the bumps when taxying etc) was not as extended as it should be. When my instructor came out, I pointed this out and he said that it most likely just needed pumping up (they do descend over time), and did a test to check that it still had sufficient extension to be safe, which it did.

Given the good weather it wasn’t surprising that the airport was very busy with lots of radio traffic etc (there were 3 aircraft from the club going out around the same time, and various others operating), which made fitting messages in quite tricky at times – the controller was doing a good job of keeping things going though.

After I’d done the power checks, I turned to my instructor expecting to receive a take off brief, and instead he told me that I would be doing the takeoff, and then proceeded to talk me through it while I was taxying to the holding point (they do like trying to make me do lots of things at once). I was quite nervous about this which is my excuse for not acknowledging the instruction to hold after reporting we were ready for departure!

There was a short delay waiting for a couple of aircraft to land which was useful as it let me properly walk through in my head what I was about to do (I find if I do this before any particular manoeuver rather than just trying to do it then it goes a lot better!).

Once we had clearance, it was taxy on to the runway centreline, then without stopping increase to full power, keep us straight, and at 55 knots or so begin to rotate (bring the control column back). Once airborne, remember not to reduce the right rudder pressure (the propeller slipstream when running at full power tries to make the aircraft yaw to the left), and get established in an 80 knot climb. Other than wobbling a little bit around the centre line during the take-off roll I think it went very well.

As we were climbing I realised I was about to enter a cloud, so asked my instructor what to do but he said to continue – the tops of the clouds were low enough that we would be going above them for the lesson. When we got properly in to cloud he took control (I believe it would be illegal for me to fly properly in cloud even under instruction at this stage) until we emerged. While inside I could see why people say IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) is disorientating – you don’t realise quite how much you rely on the subtle external references until they’re removed!

It was a lovely sight above – a nice white fluffy field with the occasional hole through which the ground could be seen. I was asked to level off at 5000 feet, which I did, and after turning to avoid heading towards a gliding area (the conditions were such there would likely be a number of gliders about) it was time to start the main part of the lesson.

We went through cruise climb/descent (these are relatively straight forward – just a slight increase/decrease to the normal cruise RPM), climbing with flaps, descending with various flap settings, use of power during descent (power is used to control the rate of descent), descending with flaps and power (this is important for landing), and also how to do a go around (i.e. changing from a descent with flaps to a normal climb without losing height or stalling in the process, as either of these things would be very bad when close to the ground!).

One very useful thing the instructor did during the lesson was to cover various instruments when he felt I was looking at them too much.

We then found a gap in the clouds to descend through, at which point I was very glad we’d had the lesson above as it was rather murky below making judging a horizon quite difficult). We headed back to the airport, did a crosswind join and then the instructor took over for the downwind and base legs. He set us up on a relatively long final, then asked me to try and control the descent by adjusting the throttle etc.

I was doing alright until we got to a couple of hundred feet or so, when I should have taken some more power off to increase our rate of descent, but was nervous to as the ground appeared to be getting awfully close, so had to be prompted. I followed the instructor through the flare and touchdown, which was very smooth. Then it was just a case of taxying back to park.

Looking back on the lesson, I think the things I need to try and pay more attention to in future are:

  • Lookout – I was a bit lax at doing this properly before climbing or descending
  • Remembering to warm the engine every 1000 feet or so in a descent (while we only did one long descent towards the end I still should have remembered to do this)
  • FREDA checks

If the weather holds then I have another lesson booked for tomorrow morning on turning – while I’ve been doing this already in a fashion I’ll be learning how to do proper co-ordinated turns and also climbing turns etc.

Weather again

Despite the weather starting to get very nice this week, sadly in Cambridge on Wednesday and Thursday (the days I had lessons booked) it decided that it would only do so in the afternoon, and leave things overcast at 200 feet or so in the mornings, thus no flying this week 🙁

I have however purchased a headset now (a relatively cheap one – might be too cheap but it seems comfortable form wearing it as a test, and even if it is then it could be useful for passengers in the future), so when I do finally get flying will get to give it a go – I’ve got 2 lessons a week booked for the next 3 weeks, so hopefully will get a fair number of them.

On to other topics – I’ve been watching with interest the Dragon commercial spacecraft going to the ISS – hopefully today we’ll see it berthed, and while not quite on the level of the moon landings, this is quite a big first in space flight…